Florida Paleontologist Arrested, Charged for Stealing Dinosaur Bones
October 18, 2012 8:01 AM
He was charged with smuggling goods into the U.S. and interstate sale and receipt of stolen goods
A man from the state of Florida has given a whole new meaning to the term "grave robbing" after getting caught smuggling
from Mongolia to the United States.
Eric Prokopi, 38, a commercial paleontologist from Gainesville, Florida, was arrested in his home today for stealing the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar -- an Asian
cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex
-- from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia and smuggling it into the United States.
Prokopi then auctioned the skeleton in Manhattan, New York for $1.05 million in May of this year. According to Mongolian law, dinosaur remains cannot be removed for personal gain. A Mongolian citizen took a picture of Prokopi physically pulling the bones out of the ground in the Gobi Desert. Mongolia is asking that the remains be returned.
Not long after the Manhattan auction, the U.S. government seized the skeleton and launched an investigation. What they found was shocking: not only did Prokopi steal the Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, but he also hoarded the remains of other dinosaur fossils.
"Our recent seizure of the Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from Eric Prokopi was merely the tip of the iceberg, said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "Our investigation uncovered a one-man black market in prehistoric fossils."
The other dino bones found in Prokopi's possession were a Saurolophus angustirostris, which resided in what is considered Mongolia today 68 million years ago; a Microraptor, which resided in what is considered China today 65 million years ago, a Gallimimus and a Oviraptor, which both lived 65 million years ago.
Prokopi was charged with smuggling goods into the U.S. and interstate sale and receipt of stolen goods. He also faces one count of conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods, making false statements and possessing stolen property. If he is convicted of these charges, he faces up to 35 years in prison.
"We want to make this illegal business practice
extinct in the U.S.
," said James Hayes of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). "This fossil is a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of the Mongolian people. HSI will preserve the fossil and return it to its rightful owner."
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